The Crusades

The Council of Clermont and the start of the Crusades


The First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II, acting in a direct response to an appeal from the Byzantium Emperor Alexios I requesting assistance from Christians from the West to expel the Seljuq Turks from Anatolia. Speaking before a massive crowd at the Council of Clermont in France in 1095, the Pope called on fellow Christians to come to the aid of their brethren in the East and embark on a mission to help reclaim the Holy locations from Moslem occupancy.
Council of Clermont
Council of Clermont

The answer to the call was enormous. In a bid to entice Christians to ‘take up the cross’, Urban announced that those who went on crusade would be absolved of past sins, as well as be exempt from paying taxes. The influx of people ranged from all backgrounds, including women and children. The majority of the forces comprised peasants and yeoman status, rather than knights. Prior to the launch of the first expedition by the Pope in October 1096, an army consisting mostly of peasants set off to the Holy Land under the guidance of a French monk named Peter the Hermit. Despite its large numbers, the military inefficiency of the 100,000 strong force proved problematic. The so-called ‘People’s Army’ proved challenging to lead, leading to looting in Hungarian territories on crossing the Danube. On reaching the Holy Land, the army faced attack from Hungarian and Bulgarian assailants, depleting their number by around a quarter. The survivors continued to Constantinople, now along with other troops, and were assisted by Alexios into Asia Minor. Once there the disorganised rabble faced further problems, and the Turks massacred many.

By 1099, the official Crusader forces, made up mostly of knights and trained soldiers, descended on Jerusalem and recaptured the city from the Moslems 22 years after its capture. Following their victory, and the end of the First Crusade, the new Christian rulers established the four Latin states of the Middle East: the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.